Tag Archives: writing

A ♥ for language blogs

Figuring out how to get the “♥” symbol was not as hard as I expected—and so this post was born.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner triggered off an agreeable wave of  “A ♥ for Language Blogs” on Translation Times. Impeccable timing. After the industrious months of May and June, business has slowed, and I’ve had extra time to explore a few of these ♥-ed blogs.

Let me share a few of my favourite language blogs. They’re more about business writing than translation. I like

As for translation blogs, I’ll just flood you with about a hundred good blogs with this list of lists. Roundups entitled “A ♥ for language blogs” can be read from the likes of

♥ Eline Van De Wiele


♥ Michelle Hof


♥ Abigail Dahlberg


♥ Michael Wahlster


♥ Kevin Lossner


♥ Katherine Osgood


♥ Silvina Jover-Cirillo


♥ Alexandra Milcic Radovanovic


♥ Jill Sommer


♥ Lisa Carter


Happy reading. Comments appreciated.


One too many tracked changes?

I’ll call him O for Offended.

O and I had volunteered our services at an NGO. His job was to translate an article and mine was to proofread it. And the NGO would get another English-language document for their website.

O’s work was good. In my mind, by suggesting about ten slight modifications, I made his translation even better.

For example, I changed

  • “June 9th” into “June 9”
  • “meet up with” into “meet”
  • “around the planet” into “around the world”
  • “numerous” into “many”

I also tinkered around with a sentence so that “sous la houlette” would not result in “under the primeship”; enter “under the primeship” in Google to see how obscure it is. Mystery expressions might be fine for an academic paper, but not for publicizing an event to the general public.

O protests

Each tracked change made O hostile.

He wrote back a page-long letter pitting His Word Choice against my word choice. He felt he had to defend all but one of my proposed changes.

I got a list:

Why did you take off the “th” from the date?

What’s wrong with “under the primeship”?

“Nombreux” means “numerous”!

The closing paragraph included a threat to never translate for the NGO again because he did not have time to correct the corrector.

Why would O spend an hour questioning every tracked change?

Maybe O is used to defending his work to project managers in face of The Overzealous Proofreader. But I was not proofreading for our employer and I did not go overboard.

A tracked change is not a personal affront.

Unlike O, I take editorial suggestions into account with little emotion. My own work is picked apart on a regular basis and these critiques are sometimes encouraging—and sometimes harsh, no holds barred. (Check out this post from The Cycling Translator if you want to get better at editing and proofing.)

Every time I get feedback, I get better at my job.

Thanks to feedback from other translators, I’ve been reminded that:

  • “Which” and “that” cannot be interchanged at will.
  • The spellcheck is better than me at Americanizing all instances of Canadian spelling (“fiber” not “fibre”).
  • Hyphens can be left out more often than I thought.
  • Short words are better than long ones.
  • Too much confidence in understanding the source text can lead to criminal linguistic activity.

I welcome feedback and read suggestions carefully. I take note of what I could have done better.

O should have done the same.

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Freelance translators: Should you blog?

This is the 20th post on my 10-month-old blog of my 19-month-old translation business in my 38th year of Life on Earth.

If I can start a blog and keep it up, you can too.

Launch your own blog if this means you!

  • You will write posts regularly.
  • You write fairly well and—more importantly—you want to get better.
  • You believe blogs are useful.
  • You want to build your web presence.

No, do not blog if you fit this description:

  • You cannot commit to posting on a regular basis.
  • You think blogs are pointless.
  • You market your services in a non-blogging manner. (Or you’re so busy with well-paid work that you don’t need to market yourself at all.)

Setting up a blog is the easy part. The care and feeding is hard.

What are the benefits of blogging?

Fabio Said on Fidus Interpres sees blogs as a business asset:

Blogging makes people aware of your work as a translator and brings new prospects, blogging makes people aware of the translating profession, blogging generates additional income…

I agree.

How has Catherine Translates paid off for me?

  • Clients see my blog and feel assured that I’m a serious professional.
  • Colleagues read my blog and refer clients or subcontract work to me.
  • I’m more articulate. I write with more confidence.
  • More people visit my website.

Now you may be wondering…

Should you write short and snappy posts?

Many readers like to see concise 300-word posts once or twice a week. I do too.

Or should you write long posts and publish less frequently?

I personally vote for in-depth articles.

In my experience, comprehensive posts are shared more easily by readers via social media. For example,

These posts were promoted by other people. Not by me. That’s the beauty of social media.

You can of course vary your types of blog posts. You can mix up long copy, short copy, podcasts, how-tos, interviews and so forth. For some inspiration, see these two blogrolls: the ATA Blog Trekker and ProZ translation blogs.

Read these resources for beginner bloggers

If you’re almost convinced you should start blogging, read Sarah Dillon’s 21 tips for timid bloggers. Then consult Riccardo Schiaffino’s Blogging 101 lesson and get your blog off the ground.

You’re not quite ready to start your own blog?

If you’ve got something to say but don’t want to do your own thing, feel free to submit a guest post to Catherine Translates.

I’d appreciate your contribution. See guidelines on my Guests Posts page if you’re interested.

Are you convinced of the merits of blogging? If you already have a blog, what’s in it for you? Leave your URLs in the comments.

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Translating a website? 6 ways to make it more readable

Online reading is different from reading on paper. Because website readers like information snacking. They want to grab and go.

So what does this mean for the website translator?

We must pay attention to readability.

These six guidelines come from Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Ginny Redish. What follows after each heading is about how I personally (attempt to) apply these tips.

Some of Catherine's favourite books

1. Give people only what they need (page 94)

I would not edit out much of my client’s website but there is one sentence which invariably deserves to be deleted: the welcome message.

Source text: Welcome to our site!

Proposed translation: [none]

Why not leave out these four useless words to make the useful words more prominent?

On the Les Feuilles Volantes blog (in French), Sara displays much more attitude. She talks about not translating the opening message on French-language brochures since they are typically of little interest to readers.

2. Use “you” (page 172)

Don’t use the third person when talking to your online audience.

Source text: Clients enjoy our hotel’s spacious rooms.

Proposed translation: You’ll enjoy our hotel’s spacious rooms.


Source text: Parents should check their children’s heads for lice on a regular basis.

Proposed translation: Check your child’s head regularly for lice.

If you are writing for an organization, use “we” (page 178)

Source text: Company ABC has been making desks for 25 years.

Proposed translation: At Company ABC, we’ve been making desks for 25 years.

Using “you” and “we” makes the copy sound much more like a conversation.

3. Use your web users’ words (page 195)

Do not confuse your readers.

I liked Nick Somer’s example in “The empowered translator” on Betti Moser’s blog:

The references to Bavarian dialect are all very well if you happen to know German, but they probably won’t add much to a Korean’s understanding of the text. Forget “Kaiserschmarrn” and “Palatschinken” plus explanatory translator’s note in brackets. Won’t “traditional Austrian desserts” work just as well?

As I wrote in my previous post about my own website copy, I used words that my reader would understand. I avoided words like “source language” and “transcreation” and other examples of translationspeak. I’m talking to direct clients, not agencies, so I use words they know.

This also means that I try to ground abstract concept nouns and replace them with concrete and understandable words.

4. Use lists to make information easy to grab (page 206)

Source text: Bring sunscreen, running shoes, a hat and a bottle of water.

Proposed translation:


  • sunscreen
  • running shoes
  • a hat
  • a bottle of water

Wouldn’t hurried customers find this bulleted list much easier to read?

5. Make links meaningful (page 318)

Redish is against writing “click here” and “more” as link text. We should use the content of the link instead.

Source text:

We offer

  • group lessons (read more…)
  • private lessons (read more…)
  • telephone lessons (read more…)

Proposed translation:

We offer

  • group lessons
  • private lessons
  • telephone lessons

Website readers know what links look like. If a word underlined, it is a link.

6. Break down walls of words (page 107)

No large and intimidating blocks of text. Keep paragraphs short. Use headings to divide your text into user-friendly chunks.

Headings can be

  • statements
  • questions
  • action phrases

To my surprise, Redish advises against using nouns as headings! So “Getting here” is better than “Directions”?

Letting Go of the Words is recommended reading if you’re interested in writing and translating web content. Mine is full of post-it notes that serve as helpful reminders.

Translators, can you recommend other resources about writing for the web? (You might be interested in my post about Matthew Stibbe’s free e-book 30 Days to Better Business Writing.) What techniques do you use to make your web writing more readable?

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Axe the concept noun: demonstration by William Zinsser

I’m halfway through On Writing Well by William Zinsser. On page 76, Zinsser gives a perfect explanation of why I dislike the word dispositif; this is French for device, plan, machine, mechanism, or even worse, system.

Dead sentences

Zinsser provides us with three sentences which contain concept nouns as eerie as dispositif. These examples sound like some of my source texts:

a) The common reaction is incredulous laughter.

b) Bemused cynicism isn’t the only response to the old system.

c) The current campus hostility is a symptom of the change.

Living sentences

Zinsser rewrites them as:

a) Most people just laugh with disbelief.

b) Some people respond to the old system by turning cynical; others say…

c) It’s easy to notice the change—you can see how angry all the students are.

He inserted human beings in there. I believe a good translator would have done the same. The reader now has something to hang on to, to visualize. Zinsser says, “Get people doing things.”

I try. I attempt to ground the reader instead of dishing out the English equivalent of the abstract concept.

Whenever I come across dispositif I ask for its actual meaning. Last time, dispositif was an Excel spreadsheet…

Book review: 30 Days to Better Business Writing

Matthew Stibbe’s free e-book called 30 Days to Better Business Writing is an excellent resource for copywriters and creative translators alike. Download it from Bad Language and get straightforward advice about writing web copy, press releases, interviews, and more.

Did you notice I wrote the word “get”? According to Stibbe, “get” is not only authorized but encouraged.

Readability advice

His most useful lesson to me was Day 24: Write Readable Web Copy. Be gentle on your reader and make online writing clear.

His main points:

  • be brief
  • use short words
  • write short paragraphs
  • use bulleted lists

I try to follow this advice when translating websites, especially the home and about pages.

However, this can be a challenge to implement when dealing with a long-winded source text. Just last week, I translated a 73-word long sentence that took up four lines on the page…

As William Zinsser once said:

There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.

Sub-headings also keep the reader on track

Stibbe writes: “Use meaningful sub-headings to break up the text. They are landmarks for the reader.” In my experience, clients are generally pleased with the sub-headings I’ve suggested, even if they were non-existent in the French version.

The all-important first sentence

The opening sentence is the reader’s invitation to the party.

Stibbe’s Day 5 exercise is about coming up with seductive first lines. An amusing exercise. My subsequent homework meant brainstorming about future blog entries. I tried out several “ledes” on different blog stubs and the results were not bad.

Stibbe says we should use the “inverted pyramid” technique for website copy, going into more detail about this format in Day 6: Pick the Right Structure. He explains, “You give the highest level of detail first—when and where the fire happened—and then add layers of detail and information as the text continues.”

Starting out strong makes complete sense. Your main point should be “above the fold” so if readers just breeze through your page, at least they will leave with the crux of the matter.

Avoid buzzwords

On Day 12, Stibbe gives a list of words to be deleted from all your current assignments. It includes “offline” and “touch base” to my surprise. He insists, “Buzzwords and business clichés are the opposite of effective writing.” The word “solution” appears to be particularly annoying and overused.

I personally dislike “leverage” and anything which “pushes” any type of envelope.

The real question for me is about how to translate hype words from source texts. Do we tone down copy to make texts more credible? I have translated for a few companies who called themselves “leaders” who provided “solutions” in the “most innovative” manner.

Hostile position against long press releases

In Day 21: Write a Great Press Release, Stibbe continues his anti-buzzword speech while going back to the importance of brevity. He shows no mercy to press releases: “Keep them short and factual. 250 words should be the upper limit.”


What I would add to the book

Important words or concepts could be written in bold to help hurried readers.

Do revisions on hard copy and think about changing the font and font size to keep your eyes fresh.

Do your final revision after a good night’s sleep.

The mystery waffle

There is mention of being a waffle and talking waffly and waffling around. And it’s no reference to breakfast.

Free download

To conclude, I recommend that you download, print and bind this book. And do the homework! Matthew Stibbe is a cheerful and articulate teacher and you’ll have fun working through the well-chosen assignments. You’ll get insights about readability criteria, writing for impact, concentration, productivity, power naps, and more.

Sharpen your pencils and enjoy!